This soy-free, gluten-free vegan meatball or sausage is so packed with smoky, spicy flavor that you will never miss the meat!
When I heard that a food blogging conference was taking place in the state just next door, I was intrigued. When I heard that friend, cookbook author, and fellow blogger Kathy Hester was going to be there, I said “Sign me up!” So a couple of weeks ago, I drove the four hours to Birmingham, Alabama, to attend Food Blog South‘s second annual conference.
Though I don’t do blogging conferences very often, I’ve found that they’re a great way to recharge my batteries; having actual face-to-face conversations with people who share my enthusiasm for food, photography, and writing takes a lot of the isolation out of blogging. This particular conference left me super-charged because I was able to spend time not only with Kathy but also with two other vegan bloggers, Heather of Better With Veggies and Katie Cain of Bistro Katie. Dinner out with them at the vegan-friendly Bottletree Cafe was one of the highlights of the weekend.
Of course, the conference itself offered plenty of information and inspiration, but when you’re a food blogger, your main focus is on the food, and when you’re a vegan, that focus turns into concern, as in “Will there be anything for me to eat?” The answers in this case were “No, no, YES, and not really.”
Neither the pre- and post-parties nor the breakfast offered much for a vegan to sink her teeth into other than pickled okra, but the lunch, provided by Shindigs Catering, featured a vegan, gluten-free main dish that turned out to be the second highlight of the conference: Spaghetti squash with tomato sauce and vegetable-based orbs that all of us vegans began calling Beetballs after conversations with the very gracious chef revealed that the ingredients included beets, almonds, chickpeas, smoked mushrooms, and smoked onions. I was sure that one, if not all, of us would wind up trying to recreate Beetballs.
Well, I may be the first, but I tested them enough for all four of us! In the course of a week, I made them four different ways, trying to get the consistency (firm yet crumbly when you cut into them) and the flavor (smoky yet not over-seasoned) just right. I didn’t have smoked onions or mushrooms, so I use dried porcini mushrooms for their deep, woodsy flavor and regular raw onions for all but one attempt, when I roasted the onions, beets, and garlic beforehand, making the texture very firm but not at all crumbly.
After my first attempt, using pecans, I decided to try using almonds and going for a more sausage-like flavor with fennel seeds, sage, and red pepper flakes. And of course I had to try a lower-fat version using quinoa instead of the nuts. Every variation I tried produced balls that held their shapes and tasted slightly meaty, but in the end the ingredients and seasonings I liked best are reflected in the recipe below. I expected the almond version to come out the winner, but overall I found that the pecans produced not only the best flavor but also the best texture–fitting for a recipe that originated at a Southern bloggers’ conference.
So what did I do with four batches of Beetballs? You would think I’d have so many that I would need to freeze some of them, but they disappeared very quickly. Besides a couple of Beetball and Spaghetti dinners (tofu shirataki noodles for me), both D and I enjoyed vegan meatball sandwiches (pickles and loads of hot sauce on mine), and twice I made Beet-zzas–both regular and pita pizzas with Beetballs and assorted veggies.
I think Beetballs could be used in just about any dish that calls for a meat substitute, though I don’t recommend cooking them in sauce. Heat them separately in the oven or microwave and then gently add the sauce just before serving–or do as I did for spaghetti and beetballs and pour the sauce over the beetballs.
Because they contain no gluten, corn starch, xanthan gum, or other “sticky” processed ingredients, they can’t take a lot of stirring or moisture without falling apart, so please handle your beetballs with care.
Beetballs: A Vegan, Gluten-Free, Soy-Free Sausage Recipe
- 1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
- 1/2 cup raw pecans, almonds, or other nuts (see note for nut-free low-fat alternative)
- 1 medium raw beet
- 1/2 medium red or yellow onion , coarsely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic , chopped
- 1 cup cooked chickpeas
- 2 tablespoons ground flax seeds
- 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
- 2 teaspoons oregano
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika (mild or spicy)
- 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
- 1/2 teaspoon rubbed sage
- 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon hickory smoked salt or Liquid Smoke (optional)
- Place the mushrooms in a small saucepan and add 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the mushrooms with a slotted spoon and rinse them well and set aside. Strain the broth through a coffee filter or fine sieve and reserve it for later use. (Leftover mushroom broth can be used in any recipe that calls for vegetable broth.)
- While the mushrooms are cooking, put the nuts into a food processor and pulse to chop finely. Do not over-process--we want finely chopped nuts, not nut powder. Place the nuts in a large mixing bowl.
- Peel the beet and cut it into cubes. Add it to the food processor along with the reserved mushrooms, garlic, and onion and pulse to chop coarsely. Add the chickpeas and all remaining ingredients and pulse several times to chop the chickpeas, but do not turn it into a paste. All the individual ingredients should be recognizable.
- Add the processor contents to the nuts and stir well to combine. If the mixture seems dry, add a tablespoon of the reserved mushroom broth. Allow the mixture to rest while you preheat the oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Using a tablespoon or cookie scoop, measure out a heaping tablespoon of "dough." Using damp hands, form it into a ball, squeezing lightly to compact it. If the dough seems too dry, add additional broth (this should not be necessary--you don't want the dough to be too wet). Place the ball on the lined baking sheet and repeat with remaining dough. You should be able to make about 18-22 balls. If you like, flatten some of the balls to use in sandwiches or on pizza.
- Bake until the balls are brown and slightly crisp on the outside, about 35 minutes. (Flattened balls will take a little less time.) Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving.
169 calories, 38 calories from fat, 4.5g total fat, 0mg cholesterol, 751.6mg sodium, 386.5mg potassium, 26.6g carbohydrates, 7.3g fiber, 4.2g sugar, 8.2g protein. 1 point on WW Freestyle.
Nutritional info is approximate.
Looking for beet burgers? How about pickled beets? I even have beet chocolate cake!
Please Pin and share!
MonicaNovember 6, 2012 at 2:15 pm
These rock my world, Susan! So far my favourite way to serve them is with a dollop of good dijon mustard, and a salad of apple, celery, carrot and honey mustard dressing. Totally the business. Thank you!
lucindaDecember 11, 2012 at 4:39 pm
Can you substitute cremini mushrooms for the porcinis? No store in my area carries them.
Aimee DuFresneFebruary 12, 2013 at 8:42 pm
Oh MY! These look delicious! I’m going to try the quinoa option. Thanks so much!
MariaFebruary 28, 2013 at 11:32 am
Can i use regular mushrooms? Or do they have to be dried?
Susan VoisinFebruary 28, 2013 at 11:43 am
Yes, you could probably use 3-4 ounce of fresh.
Denise JohnsonMarch 16, 2013 at 1:27 pm
Thanks for sharing this recipe, I’ve been looking for a soy free, wheat or gluten free subsitute fake meat recipe.
dinaa lynnMarch 19, 2013 at 2:15 pm
This is a recipe that I have wanted to try. Thanks for breaking it down. I enjoyed the photos.
DianeMay 8, 2013 at 4:36 am
I finally tried these and they do take some time, but they are so worth it! Lovely sausage-like flavor, a good consistency, and very versatile. I doubled the recipe so I could freeze some for later, but I ate them all within a few days! I like the flattened “beetsausage patties” best because of their crispier texture. As noted, the beetballs do fall apart if they’re left in spaghetti sauce or other liquid for too long, so definitely reheat separately and then add to sauce or soup.
I had spaghetti and beetballs (beetsauce the first time, before I learned to heat beetballs separately!), veggie soup with beetballs (like Italian Wedding Soup?), beetball marinara sandwich (served with soup), breakfast burrito with beetsausages, veggie and crumbled beetball unfried rice (as a side), and a veggie and beetsausage pita pizza. All delicious!!
MichelleSeptember 21, 2013 at 5:10 am
Wow! This recipe is absolutely fantastic. Yes it is a bit labor intensive but totally worth it. Next time, I will triple the recipe and freeze the extra.
Thank you for sharing such a great recipe!
Bill HopkinsSeptember 21, 2013 at 2:53 pm
I have made them twice now, and the second time was a double batch! I have a dozen or so left from that, and my 18 month old grandson Ike is coming over tomorrow for his 3rd go at beetballs and spaghetti! I also made a beetball pizza with Moosewood Cafe’s whole wheat crust…fabulous! I usually tinker with recipes, but this is a knockout as is.
kriSeptember 22, 2013 at 5:29 pm
Hi there – you don’t mention the baking temperature. Can you please provide? I just prepared them – excited to try!
Susan VoisinSeptember 22, 2013 at 5:33 pm
350F. It’s in step 4. Hope you enjoy them!
AmeyoDecember 22, 2013 at 11:14 am
Hi Susan, thanks for this website. I am vegan and tired of eating the same things and so I was searching the web for new things and came across your site. I want to make vegan saussages and meatballs. So I’ll try some of your’s thanks. Please reply. Ameyo
LauraFebruary 16, 2014 at 3:14 pm
How big is a medium beet? Can you give me an approximate weight? Thanks much! Can’t wait to try this.
Susan VoisinFebruary 16, 2014 at 3:23 pm
I don’t have one right now, but the next time I see them at the store, I will pick one up and weigh it for you.
LauraFebruary 16, 2014 at 7:27 pm
EmMarch 5, 2014 at 10:55 am
I made this last night and was able to get some dried porcini mushrooms which are pricey- turns out my family loves this so much that I have to double the recipe next time but when I look a the cost of that it is fine. Awesome!
AmyJuly 7, 2014 at 5:32 pm
Does anyone know if these freeze well??
Susan VoisinJuly 7, 2014 at 5:46 pm
Once they’re cooked, they should freeze without any problems.
AshleyFebruary 11, 2015 at 10:48 am
How “Beet-y” are these? My boyfriend hates beets, could I make these without him actually knowing there are beets in there? Or will the taste show through?
Susan VoisinFebruary 11, 2015 at 11:03 am
I would try golden beets, which have a milder flavor and won’t be so obviously red. I don’t think he’d know they were there.
SameulSJune 26, 2015 at 7:47 am
Quick question(s) for anyone who can answer… can I make these a day before and freeze or chill then reheat in oven? Also, for the lower fat version, 1/2 cup of quinoa (I presume black or brown) is the measure, correct?
TIA – bo1953
SameulSJune 26, 2015 at 8:04 am
Scrap the question about freezing, I found it… 😉
caroJanuary 3, 2016 at 4:20 am
yay, totally yummy 🙂 I made it with red beets and the balls were delishious. when i got them out of the oven they seemed to be a little too soft. so i let them cool a few minutes and then fried them slightly in a pan with olive oil – so they get a crispy shell and were perfect in tomato sauce with spaghetti 🙂 some kind of vegan albondigas.
today i will try to mix the mass with seitan to get a patty for a burger. i´ll let you know about the result 😉
happy new year!
Lisa MuirFebruary 17, 2017 at 4:01 pm
Susan, thank you for all of the recipes you share! I made these a couple of years ago. I remember them being tasty so I’ll try again. I may try adding chickpea broth if too dry.
orthohawkApril 16, 2018 at 7:46 pm
Would seitan be a good sub for the mushrooms? I’m allergic to them (anaphylactic shock allergic) and would rather not have soy.
Anita GordonFebruary 13, 2019 at 7:13 pm
I love your recipes. I made the quinoa version of the beetballs and made them into burgers! Delish!
Amanda ConnollyJune 8, 2019 at 11:43 pm
Made these tonight for the first time. By and large it went well. The raw garlic may need replacement with garlic powder and no chili flakes since I’m dealing with spicy intolerant people… We’ll try that next time,! Thanks!!!
Maria S.February 6, 2020 at 9:44 am
Thanks for sharing this recipe with us, Susan!
The beetballs were amazing, everyone loved them… They have that deep and smoky flavour, which is a crowd pleaser no doubt…
I have replaced the porcini mushrooms with approx. 100g of cremini mushrooms sauteed in advance and the recipe turn out perfectly.
Thanks once again for the inspiration!
Keep going 🙂
MinaMarch 10, 2020 at 2:54 pm
I made this dish a couple of times and i love it on Spaghetti. Did you ever put the beetballs into the freezer after baking? I would like to safe some for buisy weekdays.
Susan VoisinMarch 10, 2020 at 3:38 pm
I haven’t, but I don’t see any reason why that wouldn’t work. Just gently thaw and reheat.
Lydia BendasAugust 29, 2020 at 4:10 am
I have loved and prepared this recipe for a few years. Just wanted to let you know I found another recipe published in a local midcoast Maine newsfeed. I would be happy to share it with you if you like. Let me know!
Robin HusbandsJanuary 5, 2021 at 1:26 pm
Are the beets roasted or raw? I did see that the recipe calls for raw but saw in a paragraph previous to the recipe, you talked roasting beets, onion, and garlic.
Susan VoisinJanuary 5, 2021 at 1:52 pm
They’re raw in this final version. I made the recipe several different ways, including once with roasted beets, but in the end I liked them best with raw beets.